By Joshua Miles
Besides, the title there should be at least two other oxymorons contained herein.
What do you do when the person who goes missing in the Olympic National Park is related to you and the first winter storm is about to hit the region where they are missing, but no Search and Rescue Teams have yet been deployed?
You gear up for search and rescue in stormy weather.
On the evening on Oct. 23 of 2021, I received one of those bad news phone calls you know are coming, but you never want to get.
At the time I lived just outside of Sequim, the Rain Shadow of the Olympics and was taking a nighttime walk. The sky was slate black and drizzling. Rain keeps the streets and trails empty of unfriendly foot traffic because the funny thing about rain is that anyone you meet out in it usually has the ingredients for a robust, healthy, and friendly constitution.
I’m a loner by nature; introverted; I love to take solo walks so much so that one time I defied relationship protocols by adamantly telling my girlfriend I needed to go on a walk alone to clear my head. She asked if she could go with me, so we could be alone together. I asked, how am I supposed to take a walk alone if you go with me? As you married guys may have already guessed, “Happy wife, happy life” applies to girlfriends too, and so basically the rule translates to you can never say the words “no” or have an alternative opinion.
As you can imagine that kind of behavior doesn’t go over too well, but on a bright note I did end up all alone as I had wanted, so that’s one example of the strangely familiar double-edged swords my life. The point is I am most in my element when I’m alone. But on the night of October 23, I wasn’t completely alone. For the last twenty years, there is always one exception to the rule of my “aloneness” as there was the night in question as well a companion whose name, as a matter of fact, was Wells.
My arms hugged over the belly of my jacket, not for being cold, but for the small weight of an eight-week-old baby Blue Heeler/Black Lab mix pup. He was curled inside my jacket in his refuge of peace, nestled into my solar plexus, little white chin tucked up under black lipped curved baby pup smile. His eyes were closed; he looked quiet and serene. Peaceful nights and peaceful rains had me happy like the song “Only Happy When It Rains” by the 90’s band Garbage; happy like the 1952 Classic “Dancing in the Rain.” I walked in smooth, gentle steps, for him.
When I returned home I would have the night free as it was unlikely someone would come knocking on my door uninvited. Alas, as the inscription Carl Jung carved over the door to the front door of his in Kusnacht, Switzerland read, “Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit”, Latin for “Called or not called, the god will be there” which means that whether I ask for it or not there will inevitably times in my life I will have to contend with higher powers than myself.
My cell phone rang. When I answered my younger brother informed me that our father Duane Miles had gone on a day hike on October 19th at the Quinault Rainforest, he had not returned, and his car was found parked at the Graves Creek Campground, campsite #2. He also told me a storm was forecast to hit the Washington coast. He asked me what I was going to do.
I was going out looking for him, no question. When I was a child I fell from an inner tube in some river rapids which were over my head. I came up repeatedly for air bounding myself from the bottom. I barely knew how to swim at the time. My dad ran along the riverbank and when the rapids emptied into a deeper calmer pool he dove in and pulled me out. My dad had saved me from drowning.
I told my brother it would take me an hour to be ready to head out. I asked my younger brother if he was heading out that night with me or another night. He told me he couldn’t go because he had to order up camping gear, boots, and it would take a week to research and maybe a couple of weeks to be delivered. I held the phone tightly, grimaced. I restrained the urge to yell that we didn’t have two weeks, we had to go now.
I offered him the use of any of my extra gear, but he’d have to stop at Swain’s or Forks Outfitters to buy boots as that was the one thing I didn’t have for him. When he told me he had work and classes I had the sense he was not going to go and decided not to push the issue.
I didn’t have the time to dissect an innate sense of disagreement with my brother’s rationale. Hiding my anger and disappointment in my brother I asked him if he could pull up online maps of the area. He said he would. I told him I would stop by on my way to take a look at the maps in about 40 minutes and hung up the phone.
I checked my standard hiking backpack and added a few items. Life-Straws, Marine flares, ponchos, MREs, Hand-Warmers, Mountain House freeze-dried food. I also would need emergency gear also for my father. I grabbed a small emergency pack that I had bought at Costco, prepackaged with emergency goods: sealed water packets, MREs, poncho, space blanket, safety whistle, etc. I packed a third large backpack with backcountry supplies, an olive green wool blanket, extra sleeping bag, and clothing my father could wear.
In the end I had packed three backpacks full of enough gear for a month. I could swap one out for another every time I came back to my vehicle. Additionally, I brought a wetsuit just in case the rain got so bad that I could not avoid being wet (this would turn out to be very useful), fishermen’s neoprene socks, gloves, and head balaclava, and extra wool socks.
I put all the gear in the Honda in such a hurry that everything was stuffed in like a kid who had taken everything in his messy room and thrown it in haphazardly in his closet, so he can tell his mother he has gotten his room all cleaned up.
I had no one reliable to watch Wells, my puppy, so he would have to go with me on our venture as my own puppy copilot and patron saint of travelers. After one stop to acquire maps of the Graves Creek area from my brother I was “hammering down the zipper” as the trucker’s lingo goes, I had another 150 miles of highway and 4.5 hours of driving between me and the location where I would begin the search for my dad at the breaking of the first light of the morrow’s gray dawn.
Editor’s note – Duane Miles went missing in October 2021 and is yet to be found. This is part three in a series of 4 articles Joshua is writing about this experience.